Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 Review

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 is a welcome sequel that came as a surprise to me. While I loved the first game, I never thought it picked up enough steam to warrant a brand-new entry. And yet it released and we are all better off for it. CotM 2 does everything its predecessor did and does it better at that. Graphics, sound, gameplay; everything has been refined to culminate in a more favorable experience than the first. This game is amazing!

While taking heavy inspiration from old Castlevania titles, this new inclusion into the series is far and away a greater departure from the source material. It builds on what made the first game great and improves upon almost every aspect. The controls are tight and responsive, and no death feels cheap, rather they made me feel accountable for my mistakes and gave me room for improvement. It is largely based on trial and error, like many games of the early 90s, and in similar fashion it offers a high level of difficulty. You will die, over and over, and over again. In fact, it became so difficult that I had to switch over to casual mode after a while to see the game to its end. The caveat being that in veteran mode, the default difficulty setting, you experience “knock back” when you are hit, meaning that a hit from an enemy can knock you off platforms if you are not careful. With the ante being upped in this game, there are tighter platforming sections than in the first, that require precise movement and timing, and it can all be ripped out from under your feet with a quick misstep or enemy encounter. If you enjoy a challenge, you will love the game for constantly beating you down, but not punishing you to the point where you give up. While checkpoints are spread further apart than I remember them being in Curse of the Moon, CotM 2 rewards perseverance through its difficulty that is sure to satisfy those who are able to make progress.

Curse of the Moon 2 boasts an astounding level of content for a retro-style title. There are multiple different endings to experience depending on the conditions in which you beat the game. I will try to avoid spoiling anything, but if you want to see everything on offer here, you will have to beat the game a total of 13 times. While this is clearly excessive, and I would be lying if I told you I powered through it, it does allow for a great deal of replay value. I believe my first playthrough I clocked in at a little over an hour. Factor in the increasing difficulty of subsequent playthroughs due to the required conditions, I believe this game can keep you occupied for over 15 hours at the very least. Mind you that is only if you wish to see every ending. I believe to a certain extent; the game overstays its welcome. Like I said, I did not sit down to see everything it has to offer, but I did enjoy the time I had with it. I don’t really see myself continuing any time soon; however, it is nice to know that it is still sitting there on my MicroSD should I ever wish to revisit it.

Like I mentioned above, the graphics and sound are more of what we loved from Curse of the Moon, but seemingly handled with more care this time around. It is clear that Inti Creates has taken their experience from development of the first game to really perfect the art. Backgrounds and foregrounds are more vibrant and full of life, and boss battles are exactly what you would expect from the Bloodstained veterans. The music has been crafted with far more intensity during boss fights, and each new song is better than the last. It is really just a great throwback to a forgotten era while kicking it up a notch.

Gameplay is similar to the first installment, however there is new variety in the characters that are introduced this time around. You have the classic Zangetsu, with his demon slaying sword that functions just as it did in the first game. You are given the ability to power up this sword, giving you more combat techniques with every swipe. Then you have the spear wielding Dominique who is able to attack vertically as well as horizontally. She is also able to bounce off enemies and lanterns, allowing her to reach places the other characters cannot. Next you have Robert, a rifleman who is capable of attacking long range, laying prone, and wall jumping. He is rather squishy though and his basic attack doesn’t do nearly as much damage as the rest of the troop. Finally you have Hachi, the mech-riding corgi (as in the dog) that can hover through the air and ground pound enemies and questionably built floors. I found myself using Hachi a lot during boss fights because he really packs a punch, is very functional with his flying ability, and can also become invincible by spending weapon points. Each character is fun in their own right, and I really enjoyed my time with each of them. In addition (and I hope I’m not spoiling too much), you will eventually have access to the characters from the first Bloodstained game, and they play identical to their earlier counterparts.

Overall, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 is an incredible sequel to an already fantastic game. It improves upon every aspect of the first, and it is evident that the developers put a lot of care into the production of this game. If you’re itching for 8-bit action that looks and plays better than the games it emulates, look no further than CotM 2. I would recommend this game to any retro video game enthusiast. This may be the quintessential retro experience and I say this unabashedly, it is a masterpiece.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 3/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 23/25 or 92/100

Ninjala Review

In the last few years we have seen an influx of free-to-play games, for better or worse, seemingly stemming from the business models of popular MOBAs, retooled for the much more recent Battle Royales. Fortnite seemed to pave the way for an entirely new and viable money-making scheme, and damn do I love it! The free to play and NOT pay to win business model satiates many of my video game desires. I can play a game entirely free of charge, or I can choose to buy cosmetics (that don’t affect gameplay in the slightest) and support the developers, it’s a win-win all around. The latest of these games is Ninjala, an entirely free-to-play, online experience for the Nintendo Switch that has won my heart since it launched. Ninjala is both simple and complex in an oxymoron that can only be made sense of through experience, and it is incredible.

The basic premise is that you are a ninja enveloped in constant battles hosted by the WNA, World Ninja Association. They have developed a gum that imbues special ninja powers upon the consumer. A lot of the game revolves around these powers, so you will see a lot of bubbles being blown and gum weapons being wielded. You’re essentially a bad ass ninja with all the perks that come with such a title. The game really shines through its many intricacies, while maintaining a simplistic coat of paint that is very inviting to newcomers.

The game, while being geared toward online multiplayer battles, be it team or battle royale style, also includes a story mode for purchase. While this may be intriguing to some players, single player is clearly an afterthought here and the story is rather uninteresting. Coming in at a total of $10 USD, it is practically highway robbery. The story is dished out through comic book panels that are barely animated and laughably so. You follow the story of Van, a young boy learning the ropes of what it means to be a ninja while practicing his newfound powers.

It’s essentially a tutorial that doesn’t really help you succeed on the online battlefield whatsoever. There is a lot of unmet potential here, as the premise of the game could have been expanded on and really interesting story arches could have been made, but again, the single player is clearly an afterthought here and is a cheap jedi mind trick to get newcomers to dish out an undeserving $10. Steer clear of this purchase, unless you really want to practice your ninja skills when you don’t have internet to play with friends and foes alike. It is worth noting that each episode in the chapter will net you some gold coins if you perfect it, which can then be spent on various upgrades to your ninja, like passive abilities. The amount you can accrue through the story is inconsequential though, maintaining the game’s status as definitely NOT pay-to-win. This game mode does introduce unique enemy types though, and they are rather charming and well designed. That is literally its only redeeming feature.

There are other in-game purchases that can be made aside from the lackluster story mode. There is, like many other Battle Royales before it, a battle pass of sorts that will allow you to unlock cosmetics. Of course there is a standard pass for free that will permit you access to a variety of goodies, but the payed pass will reward you with many more goodies at a much greater rate as you rank up. If you’re not into cosmetics then this can also be avoided, as it is perfectly viable to stick with the free pass. Gameplay is unaffected regardless of the money you choose to spend. This is the best case scenario for free-to-play games in my opinion, where it is very consumer friendly, void of predatory charges.

Now we get down to the most important aspect of the game, gameplay. You wield one of three varieties of weapons, the katana, hammer, or yo-yo. All have very distinct gameplay features that allow you to adjust your playstyle accordingly. Within these three varieties are four different options of weapons that have different passive and active abilities. I am most acquainted with the drill katana because it allows me to burrow into the ground and pounce on unsuspecting enemies, often allowing me to steal kills or surprise attack the oblivious ninja. You swing your weapon by pressing ZR, and you blow a gum-bubble with ZL also acting as a guard. When you clash with another ninja you are given four choices: up, down, left, or right. This amounts to a game of rock paper scissors, where up beats down, down beats side, and side beats up. When you perform a basic attack with ZR and there is no input from the stick, the default attack is up, allowing veterans to exploit noobs by opting for the side attacks.

You can also shoot your bubbles by holding ZL and shooting with ZR. You are given a power meter allowing you to dash. This meter is increased whenever you defeat a drone and will allow you to upgrade your weapon to a bigger form of itself when you accumulate enough power. There are many more intricacies that I will not mention here for fear of my readers figuring out my playstyle and trouncing me when we inevitably meet on the battlefield. I’ll leave the rest up to trial and error. I am hoping now you understand why I have been saying this game is both simplistic and complex at the same time.

The graphics err on the side of simplicity to be more appealing to the uninitiated. It essentially tricks you into playing an overly complex game. I love it. It is very cartoony and colorful and looks like it was made for children. That could very well be the case, but I really don’t see children being able to figure out how to “git gud”. It can be somewhat of a shock to see this giant Pixar animation beat you down if you’re not ready for it. I thought the childish aesthetic to be quite charming in the grand scheme of things, and it definitely motivates me to keep playing. At the very least it’s a nice break from the much more gritty and bleak Skyrim port on the Switch.

The sound is great as well, as I jump for joy when the announcer yells Ippon! or Ninjala! when a combo lands in all the right ways to leave your opponent flying to the other end of the arena. Sound effects are straight out of a cartoon as well, and the music featured in the game has all been originally crafted. You can assign your ninja with a theme song in the avatar customizer, and I’m constantly jamming to the theme song I handpicked for myself. It’s all great fun and appropriate for all ages.

Finally, the game has been designed to be played over and over, ad infinitum. Each game feels different from the last as you can choose to Ippon your way to victory, or steal all the drones, or even just work toward your many missions that will lead you to rank up your battle pass faster. I’ve been playing it rather consistently since its launch and the gameplay has yet to feel dry to me. However, I do believe that many players may fall out of the game if they aren’t winning enough, or the gameplay just doesn’t appeal to them. There are only two maps to choose from so the locations may become stale after a while. I feel like it’s a “love it or hate it” kind of game with very little room in between. If you don’t like the game after giving it a good chance, it will likely never grow on you. However, admittedly I wasn’t a big fan after my first few battles, but after learning the ins and outs, I grew to love it for all of its intricacies. It may very well be a contender for my favorite free to play games of all time.

I would recommend any Switch owner to give this one a go, if for no other reason than that it’s free. You don’t even need a Nintendo Online subscription to battle against other players online, making it one of the only truly free games out there. If you don’t like it after giving it a fair chance, that’s okay, because you literally haven’t lost anything. Well, except for your precious time. Regardless, I think it’s a worthy pick-up for any Switch owner. There’s nothing to lose.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 2/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 22/25 or 88/100

Burnout Paradise: Remastered Review

At its core, Burnout Paradise is filled to the brim with fun, fast-paced action wrapped in a myriad of things to do. While EA is extremely criticized for almost every move they make, I have no bone in that fight as I remain a bystander and lover of all things video game related. Without getting too much into the politics of this titan of a company, I can definitively say that Burnout Paradise Remastered for the Nintendo Switch is an amazing game, albeit with a questionable price of entry.

The premise is simple. Here’s an open world full of discoveries to be made and events to take part in, and it is traversed exclusively behind the wheel of some pretty cool cars. Paradise City is appropriately titled, boasting one of the coolest open worlds I have ever experienced. Each detail can become marred in the blur of break-neck speeds however, effectively making each detail put into every turn almost superfluous. Yet it is very much appreciated whenever I choose to simply explore the nooks and crannies at a more reasonable velocity. There is a lot of detail put into this game, yes, but it can also look very grainy at times. Be it the blur in the distance, or somewhat jagged lines detailing the game, this isn’t the best looking game on the system; but it is serviceable and it’s important to note that this was a last-gen game, up-resed to look and perform better by today’s standards. The car destruction is rather visually pleasing, but again, it is nowhere near what the capabilities of today’s technology can achieve. The pieces that fly off the car have about as much detail as low-quality voxels from a bygone era in video games. Burnout doesn’t look completely terrible by any means, but it only attains a caliber that is acceptable to the average gamer.

The fun to be had here mostly comes from the high-octane action that is found throughout. While I, and many other gamers of my generation will agree; Burnout 3: Takedown was the franchise’s climax that has yet to be replicated or achieved by any of the newer entries. In this fashion, I am sure the open world will turn off some purists; however, I found it to be enjoyable and events are still as bountiful, regardless of how they are accessed. In fact, it adds value to the game by allowing discoveries to be made that a traditional Burnout lacks. You will be flying through billboards, mowing down fences, and jumping over impossible ramps in an attempt to discover everything this game has to offer. In this sense, the gameplay has been amped up to 11, with so much content available to whoever chooses to experience its intricacies.

As far as events go, there are six, or arguably seven varieties to participate in. There are standard races, stunt runs, and marked man missions to name a few. Burnout Paradise provides a lot of different gameplay options to really test your skills in many different forms. My least favorite was the point accumulating stunt runs which tasks you with scoring enough points in a set amount of time. The game shines brightest in its standard races that offer incredible arcade racing action, filled with near-misses and takedowns that veterans of the series are accustomed to. There is something here for everyone, except for those expecting simulation. This is nowhere near a simulation, but it does contain a set of mechanics and physics that are geared more toward fast fun rather than simulated racing, and it may be the pinnacle of arcade racing, especially since they are few and far between on the Switch.

There’s no real story present in this game, with the objective being simply to win enough races to upgrade your license and expand your roster of cars so that you have access to even more events. Honestly, the story is not missed in this title. There is enough action to drive this game forward that the addition of a story is grossly unnecessary. I realize that it, as a parameter I include to gauge the overall score and quality of any game, creates somewhat of an injustice to my approximation of the quality of Burnout Paradise Remastered. I nonetheless have to include it in this review as it is a standard I have, and will continue to uphold in the conception of my video game reviews. I apologize if this hurts the score of the game, but it will make up for it in other criteria.

From the onset, as Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses queues up on the title screen, it was clear that this game would have a phenomenal soundtrack, and it didn’t disappoint. Everything about the music in this game screams high-velocity gameplay. I enjoyed the music thoroughly, but its sound effects also shine through here. The crunching of the car crashes, the revving of the engines, it all amounts to peak racing quality. There is no other way to describe it other than simply incredible. Jamming out to a song while going 200 km/h and crashing in slow-motion as the song gets muffled a bit is sound mastery at its finest. I absolutely loved it.

Burnout Paradise Remastered is highly replayable, and I found myself going back and completing races I have already won just to experience the same routes that have been perfected through shortcuts I discovered along the way. It is a masterpiece in many ways, even though I think enjoyment may vary depending on the players’ own inclinations and expectations. I loved my time with Burnout Paradise Remastered for the Nintendo Switch, and it has locked in a permanent spot on my micro SD card. I’m sure I will be coming back to this one regularly. I also forgot to mention that this version of the game is the definitive one as it includes all the DLC previously released for it, including Big Surf Island being accessible at the very beginning. While it is rather expensive upon release, it will likely be marked down in the near future, and I would recommend everyone to wait for a discount. I mean, the game can already be found for under $20 on other platforms. If the Switch is the only thing you have though, and you really want an arcade racing experience, this title will not disappoint.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 1/5

Graphics: 3/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 19/25 or 76/100

Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling Review

I am often presented with a dilemma about how I should operate this review site. For the most part, I am a firm believer that a game should be played in its entirety before I review it, or at least played for a large amount of time in the case of longer titles. Herein lies my problem. Bug Fables is an incredible game, and I want to commend it for everything it does right. That said, I have only played through about half of it because my fat thumbs are not capable of seeing it to its conclusion. I believe this game should be played by a large audience. It’s rather niche, but I feel like a ton of RPG fans that would not normally consider it would have a ton of fun. This is what is driving me to write this review, if you could call it that. Perhaps it is better suited as an impression piece, I don’t know. Suffice it to say, Bug Fables is a must play for any fan of the old school Paper Mario games, and would be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone looking for an RPG-Lite experience.

The primary thing that stands out with this game is the art style. It draws heavy inspiration from Paper Mario, and that is not a bad thing. It ensures the game will still be looking great 10 years from now. Most things are paper, from the two dimensional characters, to the buildings that are seen throughout your journey. It is a three dimensional world however, and there is actually a little bit of a contrast between everything that is paper, and the lands you traverse. At its best, when you enter a building, paper is folded back so that you can get a view of what the interior looks like. At its worst, you are trekking across a world you do not quite look a part of. Overall, there is more good than bad to be said about this art direction.

The gameplay is also a nod to Paper Mario on the N64, from the occasional, albeit weird platforming segments, to the straight rip-off of the combat system. I’m not saying it’s a rip-off in any bad sense of the term. It takes everything that was great about combat in Paper Mario, and fine tunes it for a more mainstream feel. Timed button presses, unique character abilities, it’s all on display here. Where it strays from the source material is in the combatants themselves. You are given three characters to play with throughout the entire game. There are no characters that pop in and out of the story. What you get a little ways into the game is what you get for the duration. Basic attacks remain the same between these three characters, but special moves are unique and require different button presses to perform.

To my pleasant surprise, combat differs through the ability to swap characters on a whim and to give each character the opportunity to give their turn away to someone better suited for the task at hand. For example, Vi can hit flying enemies, Kabbu can hit enemies out of their shell, and Leif can unearth burrowed enemies. When you are facing an enemy that suddenly flies in the air, and Vi has already taken a turn, Kabbu or Leif can give their turn to Vi so she can work her magic. The stipulation being that upon every additional turn any one character takes, their power is reduced. All in all the combat system is enjoyable, and never got old in my 10 hours of playing.

The music once again, you guessed it, is inspired by Paper Mario, with some tunes sounding eerily similar to the source material. Again, not a bad thing. Paper Mario was an incredible game with incredible music, and that is not lacking in this spiritual successor. I found myself enjoying the music so much that I went back and played the soundtrack a couple times. It is incredible, seriously, go listen to it. Sound effects are spot on too, with every boomerang knock to an enemy’s head inspiring cheers within my soul. This game was, simply put, very pleasing to both eyes and ears. Bug Fables does have one issue that I need to point out. The story is uninteresting to me, but I do see how some could come to love it. Again, I never finished the game, so I don’t know how it all plays out, but it seems like they played it very safe with many of the story elements. What it lacks in overarching story it makes up for in sheer talented writing. The writing in this game is incredibly charming. I never felt the need to button mash A through any of the dialogue, and it was very enjoyable. Each character gets developed through what they say and how they react to different situations, and it all just seems very believable. Like, if there actually was a rag-tag team of a bee, beetle, and moth thrown into a power struggle, this is exactly how they would speak and act. I’m just going to leave it at that.

As far as replay value goes, I feel I would be hard-pressed in finding people who desire to play it through multiple times. Heck, I couldn’t even get through it the first time. This was in large part due to a certain gameplay sequence that had me creeping around enemies, trying not to alert them to my presence so they don’t throw me back in jail. It was THE WORST. I typically hate gameplay segments that use a terrible stealth gimmick, where you have to stay out of enemies’ fields of view. It’s terrible. It sucked in Ocarina of Time, was worse in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on the original Xbox (look it up), and is terrible here. I would need some divine intervention to play through that again. No thank you.

Overall, Bug Fables is amazing. It hits all the right notes in most of the important aspects that make a good video game, but fell short for me in a very specific sequence. I still wanted to get the word out there that this game exists and is, for the most part, enjoyable. I loved it, until I hated it. End rant, end review.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 3/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 1/5

Total: 19/25 or 76/100

Thunder Force AC (SEGA AGES) Review

M2 seems to be a game porting monster and that is no exception when talking about the recent Thunder Force AC port to the Switch. As with many SEGA Ages titles before it, this version of Thunder Force may actually be the definitive version, albeit with much less intrigue than an arcade cabinet. Thunder Force AC is a horizontal shoot ‘em up that was born from the ashes of Thunder Force III on the Sega Genesis. While admittedly I haven’t played many games in this genre on the Switch, it has quickly become one of my favorite, short-burst experiences on the console. I use it as a buffer between games when I am not quite sure what I want to play, instead of endlessly scrolling through the eShop that I’m sure many of us are guilty of. It doesn’t just act as a quick in-and-out experience though. This game is great whether you have mere minutes, or a couple hours to play.

The SEGA Ages series is notorious for squeezing great content into retro experiences. You are provided with not only the arcade mode that emulates the original perfectly, but are also given the option of a “kids mode”. While I may have felt a little degraded with the choice of words they used here, it was a welcome addition to the game. I have never been all that good at shoot ‘em ups, but this mode allowed me to see it to its conclusion with very little difficulty. It allowed me to experience all 8 levels that I would have never seen were I to stick with the arcade mode. On top of this new mode, you are given the choice of the difficulty level in each playthrough, the number of lives you are awarded with each credit, and the score necessary to earn an extra life. All of these options offer customized gameplay, tailored to the skill level of the player. Arcades were designed to eat quarters, making it necessary to be difficult within the fundamental design. These options circumvent that and make the game much more user-friendly.

As mentioned above, there are 8 unique levels, each with their own enemies, backgrounds, and bosses. The game does not lack variety, as my thirst for novelty was well quenched with every new screen. One thing I feel is worth mentioning is the nausea evoked from the second level. The background is wavy and there are instances where you speed up. It made the world around me spin uncontrollably, figuratively speaking. It was almost unplayable, which is incredibly disappointing because if I wasn’t driven to review the game, I would have likely stopped my playthrough there. Fortunately, in later levels this is not a problem, so if you can get over this hump your stomach should settle down.

There’s not much more I can say about this game. The music is stellar in typical SEGA fashion. It is full of energy and the funky melodies really compliment the fast-paced gameplay effectively. It is a port of an arcade game, which is the very definition of replay value. It’s just as fun the initial run as the third or fourth time through it, and perhaps even more so as you come to master the game, anticipating every enemy and bullet that is thrown your way. Beyond that I feel I’ve said more than enough about this bite-sized experience. I’m a huge fan of SEGA and love to support these SEGA Ages titles as much as I can because they are significant markers in the annals of video game history. On top of that, M2 does a fantastic job at porting these games to perfection while also giving a suitable amount of added content to remain relevant in this day and age.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 1/5

Graphics: 4/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 20/25 or 80/100

Streets of Rage 4 Review

The Genesis was home to a couple of my favorite beat-‘em-ups, one being Golden Axe and the other being Streets of Rage. It’s safe to say that when news broke of a new SoR game coming to the current generation of consoles, I was ecstatic. When I saw gameplay footage, I was blown away and had the release date marked in my calendar as soon as it became available. And it definitely lives up to the pedestal I put it on. Not only does it provide a story that’s appropriate for a revamp of the series, but it bolsters a lot of extra content and unlockables that will keep you coming back, even for just a level or two.

Following the collapse of Mr. X’s syndicate, a new organization is emerging to take control of the city. It is up to Axel, Blaze and  their gang of misfit tag-alongs to once again free the city from the clutches of corruption and evil. It is impossible to get into the story without spoiling it (it’s rather short as it is), but it’s important to note that the story doesn’t hold any real significance to the fun the player will have with this game. Instead, it is the constantly scrolling level design and gameplay that really drives this one home. The environments are beautiful, albeit a little dystopian, and the gameplay is reminiscent of the 16-bit adventures while also being new enough to provide some quality of life improvements to the classic gameplay you know and love. It is essentially a love letter to the 90’s, and is one that is welcomed with open arms. A pinch of nostalgia and a dash of gameplay improvements makes this a great time to be had by old fans and new ones alike.

The game feels fine-tuned, a departure from the clunky movement of the past. Everything flows nicely, and will assuredly make you feel like a badass as you jab and throw your enemies around. The new special moves add just enough flavor to satiate anyone’s taste and the combos are very similar to what we’ve seen before. It’s very much still a game that is rooted to the side-scrolling and up-and-down movements of the past. To dodge, you will often have to move upwards or downwards on the two-dimensional plane. It’s the mastery of the movement and fighting combos that will take you a long way into the harder difficulties. For newcomers, the easy difficulty is inviting and will allow you to learn the ropes. Anything past Hard though is excruciating as you are limited to the number of lives you are appointed. Luckily there are accommodations that the game provides allowing you to sacrifice points for more lives to help you beat that tricky boss you’ve been stuck on for ages. There is an ideal balance of difficulty for newbies and pros alike.

Graphics have shown a huge departure from the original 16-bit sprites and environments. Everything looks silky smooth, almost ripped out of a comic-book. It all has a nice polish to it that is easy on the eyes. The character models blend seamlessly with the colorful environments, animations never look out of place, and the backgrounds are alive with character and charm. It looks exactly like you would imagine a Streets of Rage reboot would look. Absolutely phenomenal. The series’ graphics looked good for their time back in the 90’s and they have advanced with the ages.

The sound has also evolved to find a place here in the 21st century. The music pumps you up to smash down some baddies, and the collision sound effects are satisfying to say the least. Right from the onset you have the option to play with the soundtrack uniquely designed for this entry, or the classic Streets of Rage soundtrack, which are both incredible. Even if you are a veteran, bound to the game by nostalgia, I would recommend playing the game with the new soundtrack first, soaking in all that the developers have intended. Later you will unlock the sprites from the first three games and it’s fun to run a playthrough again with the old characters and old music that fits them.

The amount of content you can unlock is outstanding, and it really draws the player in to multiple playthroughs. The only way to unlock everything is to continue playing and building up your lifetime score to meet the various milestones set out for you. The older sprites that are unlocked really clash with the sleek levels, looking out of place. It is still fun to see this clash, as odd as it seems. If you are playing on a platform that allows achievements, there is a great deal more content to come back to as you are challenged to finish the game on various difficulties and with various characters, multiplying the duration of the game at an astounding rate. With achievements, the amount of time completionists will have with this game far extends the initial one or two hour story.

Streets of Rage 4 is more than a solid entry in the series and acts to revitalize the genre showing that games like this can still be successful. For veterans of the series, this will likely scratch an itch that has persisted for over 20 years. It is also inviting to newcomers, being solid as a stand-alone experience. I would highly recommend this game to anyone who may find pleasure in old-school beat-‘em-ups and those looking for a refined beat-‘em-up experience.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 2/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 21/25 or 84/100

Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review

I would give Ori and the Will of the Wisps a glowing recommendation; it hits all the right notes in terms of gameplay and controls, wrapped in a beautiful musical score and an art-style that would give Bob Ross a run for his money; but I can’t. As much as I would love to recommend this game, it needs a lot of work on the performance front. It stands on the precipice of greatness but falls short in the most important aspect of all. This game is incredible, but also very disappointing.

A sequel to the 2015 “Ori and the Blind Forest”, it surpasses its predecessor in so many ways while staying true to what made the first game so great. You follow the adventures of Ori, a guardian spirit who finds herself on an adventure in a strange land outside of her home of Nibel. She, along with her owlette companion Ku, fly far across the sea only to be stricken down by inclement weather and trapped in this foreign land. Ori and Ku struggle to go back home after being separated and Ori becomes entangled in an adventure to restore the land from the corruption that had long since consumed it. The story is very emotional, and I even shed a tear when I reached its gripping conclusion. Moon Studios just knows how to tug at the heartstrings of anyone who is fortunate enough to play through the game in its entirety.

The combat has been refined and smoothed out with a fine-toothed comb. No longer are you limited to the Spirit Flames that served as the primary attack in the Blind Forest. Now, Ori has access to a versatile assortment of weapons giving the player freedom of choice in a variety of play-styles. These weapons include, but are not limited to, a sword that slashes away at enemies quickly, a bow that provides range, and a cumbersome hammer that can destroy enemies’ armor and shields. Combat is much more pleasant in this sequel and empowers the player where the Spirit Flames did not.

The platforming should also be praised. Movement is buttery smooth, and each platforming sequence feels perfect in every sense of the word. If you are competent with the controls (and after playing some of the more challenging sequences in the Blind Forest, you should be) you can achieve these incredible platforming feats with such grace and fluidity. It is a masterpiece to behold. There were moments where I would initiate a sequence of jumps and launches and just be amazed by the mobility of the character, almost in disbelief that I input what I was witnessing on screen. It wouldn’t be unfair to say this may be one of the best platformers on offer in 2020.

The art is breathtaking to say the least. Each individual frame of the game can be screenshotted and would make the perfect desktop background. This is the perfect example of games as an artform. Side scrolling backgrounds are masterfully hand drawn and are bursting with color. Landscapes are jaw-dropping and awe inspiring, creating environments that are so full of life. This game, along with its predecessor, are two of the best-looking games I have ever laid my eyes on. It’s pure perfection.

The musical score contributes to the flavorful landscapes in the best way. It is all orchestral tunes that elevates the gameplay to a whole other level. The music howls at you as chase sequences pick up the pace and lulls you to sweet serenity when leisurely exploring the beautiful environment. The art alone is beautiful. The music alone is beautiful. The combination of the two is like Reese’s chocolate and peanut butter, and I honestly could not imagine one without the other. Not only is this one of the best-looking games I’ve seen, but the music stimulates the senses in ways I never thought possible. Expertly orchestrated, from a visual and auditory standpoint the execution is flawless.

And that brings me to my one and only complaint about the game, and boy is it a doozy. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is plagued with performance issues at nearly every turn. It stutters often, especially when transitioning into a new area. This is almost game breaking, and heartbreaking for an otherwise perfect title. At about the 8-hour mark I was frustrated by the constant slowdown and stutters. In one instance the game even crashed on me and I had to load into it from my last checkpoint. I was overwhelmed with anger and frustration that I thought about hanging my hat with this one and finishing my playthrough there, but I persevered and made it to the end, and I am glad that I did. This game desperately needs a patch. I would give it a perfect score were it not for these persistent performance issues. As it stands, this game is incredible but these issues in a 2020 release, and published by Microsoft at that, is unforgivable.

While Ori and the Will of the Wisps exudes perfection in almost every objective angle, where it faults is in one of the most important areas of a video game. I would not be surprised if many people put this game down out of sheer frustration, but I implore anyone giving this title a go to persevere through it, because the ending really needs to be experienced. If you can look past its flaws, there is so much more here than can be described. I believe that an almost perfect score is appropriate for an almost perfect game.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 5/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 4/5

Total: 23/25 or 92/100

Two Point Hospital Review

Running a profitable hospital is no joke and Two Point Hospital makes this quite clear. Well, maybe it is kind of a joke; honestly, after playing this game I don’t know what to think. The sheer depth of the institution-building simulation is concealed by a humorous coat of paint and it is rather brilliant. This game was hard to put down, driven mostly by its incredible, cheeky dad-jokes. My only significant gripe with the game is how overwhelming it can all be at times. Luckily, thanks to full control over time like many sims before it, you can take it all in at your own pace. Two Point Studios has really outdone themselves on this one.

From a developer I have never heard of before (I never played Theme hospital, the game’s forerunner), I was pleasantly surprised with the level of content on offer. The depth of the game comes from the workers for hire. Many of them have their own dispositions and expertise, all while demanding different pays and pay raises, and it all actually matters in the conception of your hospital. Did I mention there are ghosts? Patients who have passed may linger in disembodied forms, and it requires a janitor with the Ghost Capture ability to rein in these abominations. This is just an example of one of many skills that are required to tackle the tasks presented to you. And this is a rather basic one at that. The key is to hire the right men for the job, or to train your staff to perform competently. Personalities play a huge role in the game as well, and too often did I find my workers not carrying out their duties as expected, lounging in the staff room for a bit too long, or simply taking my hard-earned money for doing a sub-par job. The mastery of the management of employees goes a long way in running an efficient business.

This depth is pleasantly concealed by a cloud of great humor. I found myself chuckling at the occasional puns or satirical comments on the sad state of health care. Looking back on it, in totality, the cleverness of it all had me laughing for a good portion of my play time. This created a light atmosphere for otherwise serious conditions. Feeling light-headed? Let me unscrew the lightbulb head you are afflicted with and provide you with a brand spanking new head with my high-tech machine. There’s a pandemic? We must pull the pans off these patients’ heads at once! I was simply engulfed in the wacky humor to alleviate the stress that would present itself with the influx of patients and the lack of accommodations. Of course, this is the only way to keep a heavy simulation light and fun.

The art style lent a lot to the fun atmosphere of the game also, which played well into the quirky humor. Everyone looked like they were ripped right out of Wallace and Gromit and they moved about, flailing their arms at every step. The characters’ mannerisms were hilarious on their own, but paired with the game’s comedic sense, it was all very fun to watch and added to the overall enjoyment. The objects were nicely detailed in a cartoonish art direction that is akin to what you would see in the Sims. It was all easy on the eyes and unrealistic in the most beautiful way.

The sound was something that left me wanting. I got a kick out of the Radio host attempting to hypnotize himself and the listener, but the music was very similar to something you may hear in an elevator. It got repetitive very fast and for the most part I would tune it out as I focused on building a nice bathroom for my patients and staff to enjoy. This is by far the weakest part of this game and were it to have a greater variety in tunes and dialogue, this may have been avoided. As it stands, I had quite the aversion to the repetitive music which I’m sure many people will feel the same way about.

This game draws you in, and while there is no real lure to play it over, retrying levels in order to get the three-star rating that is so highly sought after was a blast. It was so easy to get carried away and spend too much, but multiple tries allowed for me to rein it in and really focus on what I can do to beat each level. In this respect, the game is very replayable, but to start from scratch on a new save is madness. Who would put themselves through all that stress, really?

Two Point Hospital was a pleasure to say the least, and its quick wit drove this game home. For those seeking depth in the way to approach different scenarios must look no further, as the simulation is quite heavy when you get in the thick of it. I had a blast with this one and it’s easily recommended to anyone looking for a quick chuckle and heady gameplay. My hat is off to Two Point Studios and their incredible take on hospital management.

Sound: 2/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 5/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 22/25 or 88/100

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA AGES) Review

After reviewing the first Sonic game right around the same time the second was to be released on Switch, I thought it might be worth my time to take a magnifying lens to the latter as well. And what I have drawn from this is that M2 has done some fantastic things with the Sega Ages titles. Not only does it present the already beguiling speedy gameplay faithfully, it adds upon the game’s foundation through features new and old. You are essentially given two games in this Sega Ages package with the return of Knuckles in Sonic 2, the game mode that used lock on technology that was only possible with the two Sega Genesis cartridges. I dare to say that this may be the definitive version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

While Sonic 1 introduced us to the titular hero, Sonic 2 tightened the previous game’s performance, physics, and level design. Where the first game was plagued with slowdown in some levels, its sequel used the Genesis’ completely made-up, phony “blast processing” to its fullest potential. I never once experienced so much as a hiccup in gameplay during my time with the game. And Sega Ages is quite faithful in this respect. It’s emulated to near perfection, and that, with this iteration’s additions, rockets the game to a “must own” status for any Switch user. Momentum also seems like it works better here than in its predecessor, making the controls tight and responsive, and overall bolstering the way the game feels from a physics standpoint.

But most notable still is the game’s incredible level design. This is by far the best showing of what Sega is truly capable of when it comes to world-building. Multiple pathways branch out, providing the player with options as to how they want to get from start to finish. Not to mention it seems fast. I know, by today’s standards, Sonic’s 2D excursions don’t seem nearly as speedy as they did back when they released, but Sonic 2 somehow captures what it really means to be fast. Levels are designed to be just long enough to rationalize the purchase, but also short enough to make it feel like you are zipping through the game. While I am a veteran at these games, I was hard-pressed to break more than 3 minutes on any one act, making it great for pick up and play while also keeping the game fresh if you choose to finish it in one sitting as it was intended so many years ago. You will spend less than 6 minutes in an environment, and then be ushered into the next just as quickly as you entered the first. This is great level design at its very core. There are a couple cheap hits that the player is almost assuredly bound to encounter, but that is where replaying the game can impart the player with a way to attain better times and smoother runs.

The 16bit graphics are just as smooth as a veteran’s playthrough. With the Sega Ages copy, like the first, you can adjust screen size, scan lines, and smoothing to suit your fancy. There is something here for anyone to enjoy, catering to both purists and newbies alike. Even to this day the game looks great. Everything is so colorful and the foreground pops from the background nicely, never confusing the player like so many games of that era did. Overall, the game’s graphics are what is to be expected from a title from the early 90s, but even surpasses its cohorts in some ways. And the games visuals, paired with its killer soundtrack, provides quite the experience. The 16bit sounds are captivating from the moment they reach the player’s ears. My favorite of all the music featured in the game’s many levels are Hill Top and Sky Chase’s upbeat melodies. The way everything ties together somehow makes the game feel greater than the sum of its parts. It’s almost ineffable, and results in an experience that has blown me away since the age of five.

Sure, I may be talking from a nostalgic standpoint, but I also believe the game is objectively incredible, and it holds up to this day as one of the best Sonic experiences out there. If you’ve never played Sonic 2, the Sega Ages version is a great place to start, and if you are a longtime fan there is a lot here for you to enjoy as well. Overall this is a fantastic addition to my game library, and the extremities of the many features included in the Sega Ages rendition (counting the ring chase mode and drop dash ability) are just a bonus; but in all honesty, the game holds up even without those inclusions. Altogether, there is a little something for everyone here, and this game remains at the pinnacle of 2D platformers.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 3/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 23/25 or 92/100

198X Review

As I get older time seems to become more and more precious. There’s just not enough of it in a day. Therefore my appreciation for short games has grown as I have; where I would have been furious as a child to get home and pop a game into my console only for the experience to be over as quickly as it had begun, I bask in enjoyment when I can complete a game within an hour or two of sitting down with it, as long as it’s fun and impactful. 198X is one of those games. It can be beaten in an hour, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. The story is meaningful, the gameplay is fun and engaging, and it acts as a nice throwback to a simpler time.

198X is essentially an hour-long story that finds a warm home as interactive entertainment. The protagonist’s name is Kid, and we accompany him in the outskirts of a city, appropriately called Suburbia. In the opening moments, he finds an arcade nestled down an alley in what looks to be an old abandoned building. He marvels at the glowing lights permeating the otherwise dark and dreary room. The game’s gimmick is that the player is experiencing old arcade games along with the protagonist as he inserts a coin and escapes into the virtual world, if not only but for a fleeting moment. The story, intertwined with the gameplay, is a neat and inventive idea that I would love to see more of. It’s a real coming of age story that implements gaming and nostalgia in a creative way. It’s relatable, and I was never an 80s kid, which says a lot about the masterfully written narrative.

The gameplay revolves around a variety of different arcade-style games that all fall within a different gaming genre. The first game you experience acts as an introduction, easing the player into the story. It’s a beat ‘em up that resembles the old Streets of Rage games. It controls as well as I expected from a game that has a lot of source material to draw inspiration from. In fact, all the games featured in the story control very nicely and I have no complaints in that regard. You move on to play games inspired by Outrun, Phantasy Star, and other 16-bit gaming staples, all of which are fun in their own right.

One of my favorite parts about this game is its soundtrack. It is comprised of some great 16bit-style tracks that are sort of smoothed out to appeal to a modern audience. Flying through space and blowing up giant starships becomes even more exhilarating when the music is ramping up in the background. Outside of the arcade games, the soundtrack that plays over the narration is just as stellar. It sets the tone for the whole game, evoking emotions that only a masterful soundtrack can draw out of the player. Paired with the incredibly atmospheric narration that Ms. Tuttle brings to the table, the sound in this game is definitely something to keep an eye (or ear) on.

The graphics are what’s to be expected from a 16bit video game, but it somehow looks better than what I am accustomed to in games from the 90s. I’m a sucker for the visuals in pseudo-retro games. The art directors are able to capture the essence of the times, but also upgrade it and make it pop in the world of the 2000’s. It is quite impressive, considering the game’s story, outside of the playable arcade games, is dished out in the same 16bit art style. The entire game, from head to toe, is pixelated heaven. I received pure enjoyment from the game’s art, and I hope we see more games like this one.

While the game is all about quick, pseudo-arcade games that can be finished within a matter of minutes, it allows for a certain level of replay value. When the story is completed, the player can choose to jump in at any point in the story, giving the freedom to play any featured game on a whim. However, these arcade games fall short of their source material. It’s simply more fun to jump into Outrun, or Streets of Rage than to play 198X’s take on these games. All in all, the replay value is there should it be something that interests you, but I would rather invest my time in the actual games rather than their depictions within this title.

198X is a short burst of fun that any fan of old arcades can pick up and find some enjoyment in. On one hand I would love for it to be longer, on the other it is the perfect sized experience that demands my attention for the little free time I have. At the end we are promised that the game is “to be continued” and I hope 198X reaches the level of success that is required for the developers to consider a sequel. If you haven’t checked this one out yet, I urge you to do so.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 3/5

Story: 4/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 2/5

Total: 19/25 or 76/100